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Galatians 3:1—9, faith and Abraham

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer (detail), 1885


The Early Epistles—

Galatians 3:1–9

Five Questions, important and obvious;
Abraham believed God,
and was accounted righteous

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

Critical Notes


(3:1) O foolish Galatians  — not a lack of intelligence but a lack of perception.  The Galatians were acting in an irresponsible and thoughtless way.  The particle O further expresses surprise and emotion.  Compare O ye of little faith— Matthew 15:28.portrayed  — literally “to place in public views to exhibit.” In the papyri a father posts public notice stating that he will no longer be responsible for his son’s debts.(3:2) observing law . . . heeding faith  (Instrumental Dative) — literally “by works of law . . . by hearing of faith.”(3:3) made perfect  — to finish or complete: often found in a religious sense of fulfilling a vow of of discharging a duty.  It was so bewildering.  The Galatians had begun in a spiritual manner, but ow had turned to external rites.

(3:4) suffered  — Although the word can mean to experience either good or bad, the thought here seems to be that of suffering.  The conditional clause that immediately follow expresses hope.  Reflection may yet cause the Galatians to change their behavior.

(3:6) accounted — a commercial word used of the recording of a sale or the paying of a tax. Account literally means to reckon, calculate, credit, or charge.

righteous — literally “reckon to him for righteousness.”  The faith of Abraham was regarded by God as the equivalent of righteousness.  Compare similar constructions; “reckoned for nought” (Acts 19:27); “reckoned for circumcision” (Romans 2:26).

(2:18) men of faith — literally “the ones of faith” in contrast to “the ones of circumcision” (2:12).  Not a contrast of Gentile and Jew but of gospel and legal ritual. 

sons of Abraham — The KJV rendering children of Abraham is unfortunate.  Child (teknon) stresses physical descent, but son (huios) describes quality, characteristic.  Compare:  “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17),  “sons of light” (Luke 16:8), “sons of hell” (Matthew 23:15).  The mark of Abraham was his faith (not his circumcision), and those who believe are the true sons of Abraham.

(3:8) would justify (Gnomic Present) — not a progressive present depicting continual action, but a depiction of fact or principle without reference to progress.

foretold the gospel — “The promise to Abraham was an anticipation to the Gospel, not only as announcing the Messiah, but also, as the involving the doctrine of righteousness by faith” (Lightfoot).

(3:9) the believer — literally, “the believing.”  Faith makes all men like Abraham, the man known for faith.


Literary Summary

Faith, not ritual, makes all men like Abraham, the man known for faith.
explaining law and gospel as opposing principles

(3:1-5) Five questions, but one point — how could y ou Galatians have been so foolish?  How could you have overlooked the obvious?  One such question by itself would have been forceful, but five hit with overwhelming impact.  The Galatians had ignored the crucifixion; the Galatians had forgotten their own sufferings; the Galatians had even failed to understand the Spirit given to them.

How was this possible?  How can people today (or at any time) overlook the most open and basic teachings of Christ?  But let us be careful lest we too make the same mistake by seeing the glaring fault of the Galatians but ignoring our own mistakes and shortcomings.  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Are there things we know and know well about Christ, but act as if we didn’t?  O foolish us.

(3:1-5) These words may have been a further answer to the Judaizers who taught that circumcision was the very thing God required.  After all, Abraham and his descendants had been circumcised and according to Genesis 17:9-14, those who refuse circumcision were to be excluded from God’s people.

Whether or not the Judaizers reasoned this way is hard to say, but it is clear that faith (rather than circumcision) portrayed Abraham.  The Scripture is very plain on this.  Abraham believed God, and his faith was accounted as righteousness.  So, men who follow Abraham are like Abraham, the man known for faith. 

Questions for Further Study

  1. Why were the Galatians foolish?  What had they done?  What had they failed to do?
  2. Consider for a moment whether you have known people who foolishly discarded their faith, but still thought they were faithful to God.
  3. Were the Galatians beyond hope?
  4. What does it mean that Abraham was accounted righteous?
  5. As Christians, what must we have in common with Abraham?

James Sanders

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